The Importance of Ethics Essay

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The Importance of Ethics

Aristotle was one of the first and perhaps most influential of all people to shape the ethics of Western civilization from a secular orientation. He believed that every type of animal has a common essence or nature, and that human beings are essentially, or by nature, rational. He viewed rationality as the central and most significant trait distinguishing humankind from other creatures. Further, Aristotle taught that the good person is the one who lives most rationally and whose moral judgments and social conduct are born of contemplation and reason, in contrast to spontaneity and emotionality. Today, when we address a moral dilemma by saying, “Let us use reason; let us use logic; let us think rationally about this,” we are being ethical in the Aristotelian, secular tradition.[i]

Aristotle taught an ethical doctrine of the “golden mean,” or of “moderation.” He believed it was good to seek balance between too much and too little, and that the result would be moderation, the ethical ideal. Aristotle believed the following elements were required to live a whole human life characterized by maximum living.

1) Health: physical and emotional well-being.

2) Wealth: absence of economic want or need.

3) Friendship: The love and admiration of worthy comrades.

4) Moral Virtue:
a. Justice—a clear sense of right and wrong.
b. Courage—bravery to uphold one’s convictions.
c. Moderation—the avoidance of harmful extremes.
d. Prudence—action tempered by caution.

5) Intellectual Virtue including:
a. Knowledge—breadth and depth of understanding the world.
b. Wisdom—good judgment based on reason.

6) Good Fortune: favorable luck and circumstances; she was born to caring parents.


Today, the U.S. government has numerous laws that reflect moral values and govern the actions of organizations. Examples of major federal laws concerning employee relations are presented in Table 3.3. Being familiar with these laws can help the leader in dealing with important work issues.


Employee Selection

A practical workplace and leadership issue with ethical and legal overtones is that of employee selection. Two major rules to follow are: 1) Every question asked of a candidate should be job related; and 2) Any general question asked should be asked of all candidates.

Prohibited information cannot be used to disqualify an applicant. Non-prohibited information is information that relates to a bona fide occupational qualification. A bona fide occupational qualification allows discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, or national origin where it is reasonably necessary to normal operation of a particular enterprise.

Table 3.4 provides a list of topics or questions that can and cannot be asked.



Can Ask: Current legal name and whether the candidate has ever worked under a different name. Cannot Ask: Maiden name or whether the person has changed his or her name.


Can Ask: Current residence and length of residence.
Cannot Ask: If the candidate owns or rents his or her home, unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification.


Can Ask: If the candidate is between specific age groups, 21 to 70, to meet job specifications. Can ask, if hired, can you furnish proof of age? For example, an employee must be 21 to serve alcoholic beverages. Cannot Ask: How old are you? Cannot ask to see a birth certificate. Do not ask an older person how much longer they plan to work before retiring.


Can Ask: Only if sex is a bona fide occupational qualification. Cannot Ask: If sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification. To be sure not to violate sexual harassment laws, do not ask questions or make comments remotely considered flirtatious.

Marital and Family Status

Can Ask: If the candidate can meet the work schedule, and whether the candidate has activities, responsibilities, or commitments that may hinder meeting attendance requirements. The same question(s) should be asked of both sexes. Cannot Ask: To select a marital status or any questions regarding children or other family issues.

National Origin, Citizenship, Race, or Color

Can Ask: If the candidate is legally eligible to work in the United States, and if this can be proven if hired. Cannot Ask: To identify national origin, citizenship, race or color (or that of parents and other relatives).


Can Ask: To list languages the candidate speaks and/or writes fluently. Candidates may be asked if they speak and/or write a specific language if it is a bona fide occupational qualification. Cannot Ask: The language spoken off the job, or how the applicant learned the language.



Can Ask: If the candidate has been convicted of a felony and other information if the felony is job related. Cannot Ask: If the candidate has ever been arrested. Cannot ask for information regarding a conviction that is not job related.

Height and Weight

Can Ask: If the candidate meets or exceeds bona fide occupational qualification height and/or weight requirements, and if it can be proven if hired. Cannot Ask: The candidate’s height or weight if it is not a bona fide occupational qualification.


Can Ask: If the candidate is of a specific religion when it is a bona fide organizational qualification. Can ask if the candidate can meet the work schedules. Cannot Ask: Religious preference, affiliations, or denominations.

Credit Ratings or Garnishments

Can Ask: If such financial information is a bona fide occupational qualification. Cannot Ask: If such financial information is not a bona fide occupational qualification.

Education and Work Experience

Can Ask: For information on education and work experience that is job related. Cannot Ask: For information on education and work experience that is not job related.

1. Work Hard.Hard work is the best investment a person can make.
2. Study Hard.Knowledge enables one to work more intelligently and effectively.
3. Have initiative.Ruts often deepen into graves.
4. Love your work.Then you will find pleasure in mastering it.
5. Be Exact.Slipshod methods bring slipshod results.
6. Have the Spirit of Conquest.So you can successfully battle and overcome difficulties.
7. Cultivate Personality.Personality is to a person what fragrance is to the flower.
8. Help and Share with Others.The real test of greatness lies in giving opportunity to others.
9. Be Democratic.Unless you value people, you can never be a successful leader of them.
10. In All Things Do Your Best.Do your best and you will have everything;

do less than your best and you will have done nothing.


When the leader says . . .the people hear . . .and the value or behavior that is promoted is . . .

Let me know if you run I don’t expect you to handle Helpfulness into any problems.trouble alone.

How can we improve I value your opinion.Respect the company?

You look like you need I care about your welfare.Consideration a break.

I’m sorry you weren’t here.You are important.Self-worth

If that machine keeps breaking You can count on me to getSupport down, we’ll order a new one.what you need to do your job.

I really made a mistake on I admit it when I am wrong.Honesty that one.

How can you prevent that You are mature enough toTrust from happening again?correct your own errors.

Although your proposal was seen I thought highly enough of the
Creativity as too costly by top management, suggestion to send it upstairs. they were impressed. Keep up the good work.

Locks versus Lives

The first of May, the administrator of the State Mental Hospital learned that keys to security wards for dangerous criminals had been lost or stolen when he received an early morning telephone call from the night administrator of the hospital. Since duplicate keys were available in the hospital safe, the administrator, Mr. Jackson, knew that loss of the keys would not interfere with the routine functioning of the hospital. But he decided to call a general staff meeting the next morning to consider the problem.

At the meeting, Mr. Jackson explained the problem of the missing keys and asked for suggestions on what to do. The assistant administrator suggested that the matter be kept confidential among the staff since public knowledge could lead to damaging publicity and possibly to an investigation by higher officials in the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

The head of security for the hospital reported that only two keys were missing and that, although he could not yet determine if the keys had been stolen or lost, he thought they probably had been stolen. He emphasized that the missing keys were “master keys” that could open the doors to all the security wards where the most dangerous criminals were housed. In his opinion, immediate replacement of the locks on those doors was required.

The director of accounting estimated the cost of replacing the locks at over $5,000. He reminded the meeting that the operating costs of the hospital already exceeded its operating budget by about 10 percent due to unexpected inflation and other unforeseen expenses, and that an emergency request for a supplemental budget appropriation to cover the deficit had been sent to the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services the previous week. In sum, he concluded, no funds were available in the budget for replacing the locks, and an additional request for $5,000 might jeopardize the request for supplementary operating funds that had already been submitted.

Besides, since it was early May, the hospital would begin operating under the budget for the next fiscal year in approximately sixty days. The locks could then be replaced and the costs charged against the new budget. Another staff member reasoned aloud that if the keys had been lost, any person finding them would not likely know of their purpose, and that if the keys had been stolen they probably would never be used in any unauthorized way.

Mr. Jackson thanked the staff members for their contributions, ended the meeting, and faced the decision. He reflected upon the fact that behind the doors of the security wards were convicted first-degree murderers and sexual psychopaths, among others. He also remembered his impeccable thirteen-year record as an efficient and effective hospital administrator.

As Mr. Jackson continued his deliberations, the thought occurred to him that perhaps the most important action would be to find and place the blame on the person who was responsible for the disappearance of the two keys. Moreover, security procedures might need reviewing. Mr. Jackson could not clearly see how best to proceed.[vi]

Discussion Questions

Have you ever experienced a moral dilemma while at school or on the job? How should leaders of organizations be judged?
What values should leaders reflect in moral dilemmas?
What standards should leaders meet?


Aesthetic values – pertaining to the appreciation of beauty and the beautiful.

Achievement – gains accomplished or fulfilled by work or effort.

Helpfulness – the desire to aid another; making it easier for a person to do something.

Human relationships – the state of being mutually interested or involved with other people.

Independence – the state of not relying on something else or someone else; not easily influenced.

Leadership – the ability to guide or direct an operation, activity, or performance in a specified manner or direction; to guide or direct others with ease.

Leisure – freedom from work or duties; relaxation; free time to do what one chooses to do.

Love – strong affection; feelings of passion, devotion, or tenderness for another.

Material wealth – large amount of possessions or resources having economic value.

Naturalness – having to do with nature, innocence, and basic simplicity.

Order – the desire for every part or unit to be in its right place in a normal or efficient state.

Physical health – a state of physical well being and freedom from illness; functioning well.

Physical pleasure – a state of physical gratification; bodily enjoyment or satisfaction.

Power – the ability to act or produce an effect; to have control or authority over others.

Privacy – the quality or state of being content when alone; enjoying seclusion.

Recognition – gaining special notice or attention; receiving social respect, honor, or reward.

Religious faith – beliefs related to divinity and spiritual experience.

Responsibility – the ability to answer for one’s acts or decisions; the ability to fulfill one’s obligations; meeting one’s duties.

Security – freedom from worry, especially in matters dealing with physical and economic needs.

Self-expression – the ability to make known, show, or state one’s personal feelings, ideas, or beliefs.

Truth – honesty; the real state of things; actuality; the quality of being in accordance with facts.

[i] Harold Titus and Morton Keeton, Ethics for Today, 5th ed. (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1976); and Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Sarah Broadie, and C. J. Rowe, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[ii] Federal Labor Laws as Amended to May 11, 1998, Title 29, U.S. Code, Labor (St. Paul, MN: West Group, 1998); and David P. Twomey, Labor and Employment Law: Text and Cases (Cincinnati, OH: Thomson Learning, 2001).

[iii] Robert Lussier, Human Relations in Organizations: Applications and Skill Building, 5th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2002).

[iv] Charles Schwab, The Ten Commandments of Success, Carnegie Steel Company—1897 (Montgomery, AL: Copy Center, 1991).

[v] Marianne Bailey and Doreen Winters, Northern Kentucky University, 1982.

[vi] John M. Champion and John H. James, Critical Incidents in Management, 3rd ed. (Homewood, IL: Irwin, 1974), 130-31.

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